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History and principles of the negotiations

Estonia's accession to the European Union is fostered by historical ties and common values, political as well as economic reasons.

The objective of the accession negotiations was to achieve the most favourable conditions for Estonia's further progress. For Estonia's citizens joining the EU means greater opportunities for working, studying as well as moving about within the borders of the EU, a more secure and well-developed social environment, greater personal well-being.

In December 1993 the European Union adopted the so-called Copenhagen criteria for the accession of candidate countries:

  • stability of institutions guaranteeing democracy, the rule of law, human rights and respect for and protection of minorities;
  • the existence of a functioning market economy as well as the capacity to cope with competitive pressure and market forces within the Union;
  • the ability to take on the obligations of membership by adopting the common rules, standards and policies that make up the body of EU law

On 28 November 1995 Estonia submitted its application for EU membership, based upon the unanimous decision of the Riigikogu approving the Europe Agreement between Estonia and the EU member states from August 1995.

At the 1995 Madrid summit the EU member states gave the EU Commission the task to compile reports (avis) on the candidate countries. The reports, completed in 1997, analyzed the candiadate countries’ readiness for accession on the basis of the aforementioned criteria.

At the 1997 Luxembourg summit it was decided on the basis of the Commission's  avis to start accession negotiations with five Central and Eastern European countries - Estonia, Poland, Slovenia, the Czech Republic and Hungary - as well as Cyprus.

On 31 March 1998 Estonia started the accession negotiations with the European Union.

The negotiations were based on Estonia's readiness to adopt the EU's principles and acquis communautaire and to implement it as of the moment of accession. In order to facilitate the negotiations, the EU legislation (consisting of approximately 12,000 legal acts) was divided into 31 chapters.

The whole negotiations process can be divided into four phases: analysis of the legislation or screening, the preparation of standpoints or positions, the negotiations and the conclusion of the accession agreement.

During the screening phase the differences between the EU and Estonian legislation as well as the areas of the legislation in need of amendment were defined. Most of the EU acquis communautaire – legislation which had taken effect by 31 March 1998 - was screened by the autumn of 1999. This formed the basis for the negotiations, which focused on solving the problems screened out.

As a result of the screening, Estonia formed its positions for the transposition and implementation of the EU acquis communautaire in every chapter. If necessary, the positions also stated the requests for transitional periods or derogations. The positions were formulated by the working groups and, before the Government’s decision, also approved by the European Affairs Committee of the Riigikogu. If necessary, supplementary positions or additional information were given in addition to the positions submitted to the European Union in the course of the negotiations Likewise, until the end of negotiations, positions were submitted on the EU legislation which came into effect at a later date.

On the basis of Estonia's positions, the EU member states elaborated their common position in each chapter. Consequently, it was necessary for the 15 member states to reach a common position to proceed in the negotiations.

When Estonia and EU agreed that there were no problems in a certain chapter, it was possible to provisionally close that chapter, i.e. to provisionally close talks on the chapter. The negotiations proceeded from the principle that nothing had finally been agreed upon until everything had not been agreed upon - thus it was possible to return to all issues until the end of the negotiations.

Estonia conducted the accession negotiations simultaneously with 15 EU member states. The official negotiations took place at the level of foreign ministers or deputy heads of the negotiations’ delegation (15 EU member states’ permanent representatives to the EU and, from the Estonian side, the chief negotiatior). The European Union was represented by the country presiding the Union, rotating in every six months. In addition to the EU member states also the European Commission was present at the negotiations table.

EU related information is also available at the following sources:

Information centres:

In the counties a network of information officers has been established. European information centres are operating in the Saare, Rapla, Tartu, Järva, Ida-Viru, Jõgeva, Võru and Valga counties (http://www.elis.ee).

Last updated: 1 October 2009

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